It’s too soon. I know. Lets call this round 1.
On Monday I joined a cohort I hadn’t really thought about before; people who’ve lost their first dog. I knew this day would come, though I didn’t sit around thinking about it, and I’m surprised at how deeply I’m grieving. I understand now that this pain is uncomplicated. He loved me and I loved him and for nearly 14 years we were one another’s closest and healthiest attachments. It was pure, uncomplicated love. Now he’s just gone and my god when will the pain ease?
My partner, also a member of this group, lost her beloved dog of 15 years awhile before we met. It also had not occurred to me that I could know & love her more deeply due to this new common ground. As we’ve swapped stories of our younger days adventuring with our once spry pups, once spry selves, I’ve grown to appreciate her and all that she’s accomplished in her life all the more. I’ve been very lucky to have her compassion and wisdom moving through this past week. And I’ve been very lucky to have her perspective as she’s got me thinking about how much my sweet pup prepared me for parenthood.
We were homeless not long after I adopted him. I was 24, he was 2 months. I knew nothing about puppy mills or dogs, for that matter. I had been wanting a dog but waited until I felt ready. “Responsible.” I vaguely recall thumbing through books. I wanted a smart, athletic dog. Turns out there was a breed that embodied both. Though I also recall those early warnings that working dogs and city living didn’t mix well but, of course, thought nothing of them. After all, I was 24 and “ready.” I adopted him on clearance from a pet store in the mall and named him Milestone because that’s what he was to me and over the course of the next 13 years and 14 homes, we would grow up together.
I had 2 dogs as a kid and a 3rd that was close enough.
The first, a German Shepard puppy named Brittany or Brandy, who mysteriously disappeared not long after she came to live with us. I was 3 or 4. My parents had just given birth to their second baby. I’m not sure why they thought a puppy was right for us at the time.
Another dog I knew, also a German Shepard, belonged to my paternal grandfather, whom my young family lived with for a time when I was about the same age. I recall him being very sweet, but he will always be remembered by my family and neighbors as a suspect in the tragic death of my very young cousin one winter Michigan afternoon. I should probably add here that one of the things that keeps coming up for me as I grieve the loss of Miles is a whole host of other triggered memories on the topic of loss. I wrote about these themes and my journey to parenthood here.
My next dog and only pup I really thought of as my own was given to my father for free by a breeder because he was the runt of the litter. I named him after a character in “All Dogs go to Heaven.” Charlie was all the rage at the time. He peed on me that first day and I thought we were just perfect together. Middle school was awful for this parentified kid, a tall, red-headed girl, living in rural Michigan with her father and 2 little brothers, so the distraction of a miniature Weiner dog runt was just what I needed. Of course I dressed him up and taught him tricks and we were quite the duo. I was devastated when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver who believed him to be a skunk and after that, I let the idea of ever having a dog go.
If I’m honest, I really had no business adopting a Border Collie, but we were a great match and we found our way and every piece of that sentiment is irrelevant when you're in love. That whole ‘he needed me as much as I needed him thing’…so true. So when I saw him sitting in his filthy, pet shop cage all those years back, I overdrew my checking account to pay for him on the spot and we just figured it out year after year. I picked up a couple books on the power of positive dog training and we spent a lot of time outdoors together. As a puppy, I often brought him to work. I can think of no way more effective to wake up teens living in a group home than to smother them with puppy kisses at 6am. I also managed to find some very good vets over the years and a wonderful life partner. He ate well and we found our way. Every drum circle, every new set of dreads, every tattoo, every girlfriend, every night I came home too late, every tick, every surprise, every new job, every place we ever lived, a home to call our own, one kid after another, we found our way. We grew up.
As I dictated this post into my phone, Miles and I were headed north to the mountains for the whole of Sunday. It would be our last outdoor adventure and Monday, I would bring him to the vet to say goodbye. Monday, as in yesterday.
I knew he couldn’t walk very far. He certainly couldn’t run. He was unable to hear me but he sure as hell could still smell. There is a notch where the mountains come together and carve out a valley with a river at its base shallow enough to wade in, and this is where we sat. Where the ice cold water soothed his joints and quenched his thirst. They are the same mountains we went to after we adopted the boys last November. The same mountains my biggest kiddo and I will journey to in 2 weeks for our annual mom and daughter camping trip. The same mountains I have returned to half my life. The same mountains Miles cut his hiking teeth on.
I carried those memories into the vet’s office with me. As we were sitting on the floor together yesterday, after the vet administered the medicine that would sedate him but not the one that would take him, I held him for a long while and tried to control my breathing and my sobbing. She returned eventually, gave him the next medication and as the weight of his lifeless body leaned into my legs we continued to sit, suspended in kairos time. His breath was gone and his heart had stopped. I stroked the soft hair on his face and ears and spoke softly as if he could hear me again and I thanked him for making me a better parent. And I sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah until it was time for me to leave.
My gift to him was a good life and his gifts to me continue to come into clarity.
Grieving, Artist Mom